By Stanley A. Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat
Good food starts with good farmers. The knowledge of how to raise healthy animals on grass is priceless. Good farmers know their land, their animals, their plants, and how to manage them so that everything thrives.
Factory farming relies on “one size fits all” formulas and schedules to do everything. Factory animals are given drugs, antibiotics, and supplements on a particular schedule that is usually the same for all of them. They are fed on grass for the same amount of time, given supplemental feed containing the same ingredients, shipped to the feedlot at a precise age, and kept in the feedlot for a time that does not vary from cow to cow. No wonder their meat all tastes the same—bland, greasy, and dull.
Grassfed farming depends on the actual conditions on the farm, and knowledge of how to use those conditions to produce healthy animals with enough fat to be tender. Often the knowledge of how to do this is passed on from parents to the next generation of farmers.
But what if someone who did not grow up on a farm tries to learn how to raise grassfed meat?
Jon and Cathy Payne had successful careers in urban America. Jon had been in the security business for 35 years. Cathy had spent 38 years in elementary education. Instead of retiring to a life of comfortable idleness, Jon and Cathy decided to become farmers, producing real food on good soil, food of the highest quality.
Jon and Cathy recently bought some sheep, and plan to raise grassfed lamb. I had the pleasure of interviewing Cathy today.
Neither Jon nor Cathy came from farm families, and neither one of them knew anything about farming. They have learned a great deal by talking to local farmers, attending farm conferences, talking to people at buying clubs, and using Internet resources such as Yahoo Groups and various farming forums—and their own constantly increasing experience.
The motto of their farm, Broad River Pastures, is “promoting nutrient dense food and preserving heritage breeds.”
Heritage breeds are animals that are particularly good for specific purposes, which have been developed by careful breeding over hundreds, if not thousands of years. They are an important part of the human heritage. Yet many of these breeds are in danger of dying out as they are replaced by new industrial breeds that serve the purposes of the large industrial agriculture companies.
Jon and Cathy are preserving heritage breeds by raising them at Broad River Pastures. One of the breeds they are preserving is known as the Gulf Coast Sheep, or the “Gulf Coast Native Sheep.” These sheep are descendents of the sheep brought to the Gulf Coast by the Spaniards hundreds of years ago. They were allowed to roam the forests, and have completely adapted to the sandy soil, local forage, and heat and humidity of the region. They are immune to the local parasites, which will kill other breeds of sheep when they are still lambs. This hardy animal produces rich milk, tasty meat, and wool. These sheep need no assistance with lambing, and are able to deliver their own lambs right in the pasture. The Gulf Coast Sheep is in danger of extinction, but Jon and Cathy are raising some of them at Broad River Pastures. These sheep, purchased in June, are thriving at the farm. They will breed, and lambs will be born, and, if all goes well, some wonderful grassfed lamb will be available next year.
Raising grassfed sheep is much harder than the industrial version. The sheep get almost all their nourishment from the grass and meadow plants on the farm. Cathy told me that you need healthy soil to have healthy meadow plants, and you need healthy meadow plants to have healthy lambs, and you need healthy lambs to have healthy, delicious grassfed meat.
This means that Jon and Cathy, like all grassfed farmers, must monitor the condition of their soil, and enrich it with the minerals and manure and other substances that make the soil healthy. This can be a huge amount of work, and very expensive in buying the materials required. Jon and Cathy have fenced their pastures, so they will be able to practice rotational grazing, which will enrich the soil, but that takes time and a sizable herd, so they have had to invest a lot of time and money into soil enrichment. This time and money will ultimately be worth it, because the rich soil will support healthy grass and meadow plants that will feed healthy lambs.
Jon and Cathy have obtained an English Shepherd, yet another endangered heritage breed, to herd and act as general farm dog. Jon and Cathy are using another heritage breed of dog, a Great Pyrenees, to protect their herds from predators.
Jon and Cathy are raising other heritage breeds of other animals, and are planning to raise all kinds of fruit and crops along with the grassfed lamb. If you would like to support them in their endeavors, you can purchase some very healthy liver treats from them for your dogs. Here is the link to their farm, Broad River Pastures, where there is a contact page.
I am grateful to Jon and Cathy for becoming sustainable farmers, for saving heritage breeds, and for raising grassfed lamb.
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